Children and teenagers are spending more and more time on social media every year. According to a report published by Common Sense Media, teenagers spend an average of nearly an hour and a half on social media each day, making it more popular for that age group than watching television, playing video games, or reading for pleasure. For children aged eight to twelve, 38% have used social media at least once in their lives and 18% use it every day.
However, research shows that disinformation, extremism, hate and harassment proliferate across the social media ecosystem, largely unregulated by tech companies. ADL conducted a survey of parents to assess their level of concern and what changes they would like to see in social media for their children.
What Parents Worry About
As children and teenagers spend increasingly more time on social media, parents are concerned about what their children may be exposed to. Sixty-eight percent of parents are concerned about hate and harassment online. When asked why they feel social media companies should be more transparent about hate speech on their platforms, parents pointed to a range of concerns including cyberbullying, suicide, and fear that online hate speech can lead to "violent in-person behavior.”
Parents report concerns over tech companies’ lack of transparency about what is taking place on their social platforms. Of the parents surveyed, 75% feel it is important for tech companies to share accurate information about the hate speech and harassment taking place on their platforms, but only 30% believe the information these companies currently share is accurate. This is consistent with analysis that tech companies’ transparency reporting is inconsistent, hard to find and full of misleading data.
Additionally, 55% of parents agree that information about the prevalence of hate speech and harassment on various social platforms would help inform their decisions about which social platforms their children should use. For example, one parent highlighted the vulnerability of children and the dangers of them being influenced by hate speech online and insisted “parents should be informed.” Another explained, “I think they should be more transparent so people can have the choice to decide if they want to be a part of their platform. Especially when it comes to minors being on the site. Parents need the truth so they can choose accordingly.”
Just 24% of parents in this sample disagreed that the government should require tech companies to publicly report on this type of information. Additionally, more than three quarters (77%) of parents agree that tech companies should be required to make public any changes to their policies regarding what kinds of posts are not allowed on their platforms.
Leaving the Public in the Dark
These survey results highlight the significant concerns parents have about hate and harassment online and their support for greater action and transparency. This concern aligns with other analysis that suggests young people are exposed to a great deal of hate online. In 2021, ADL found that nearly one in 10 multiplayer gamers ages 13 to 17 had been exposed to white-supremacist ideology. An estimated 2.3 million teens each year are exposed to white supremacist ideology in chats for multiplayer games. Additional surveys found that more than one third of children between the ages of 12 and 15 encountered hate speech online. Exposure to hate speech online can impact mental health and has been shown to increase stress.
During her testimony before Congress, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen revealed how the company hid internal research that highlighted the harm the platform was creating. Haugen said Facebook acts on as little as 3-5% of hate speech. As children and teenagers continue to spend more time online, parents expect social media companies to produce accurate and meaningful transparency reports about the prevalence of hate and harassment on their platforms and the actions they take in response. But tech companies are failing to meet this expectation. Left to their own devices, tech companies choose to leave the public in the dark as to the danger of their platforms.
This survey was conducted by YouGov, a public opinion and data analytics company, on behalf of ADL. YouGov administered the survey online using a random sample of its panel of willing survey participants. This survey was conducted between May 4th and May 5th, 2022 and included 627 parents in the United States. The responding sample was weighted based on census data to provide a representative sample of parents in the United States. The margin of error for this survey is plus or minus four percent.